Wednesday 28 November 2018

The Fortune Cookie (1966)

Off-List: The Fortune Cookie
When I was looking for extra movies to add to the List for 1966 I stumbled over “The Fortune Cookie”. I had never heard of this movie, but it was a comedy, something the List is short on. It also features Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, a classic duo that usually ensures a watchable movie. But most importantly it was directed, written and produced by the great Billy Wilder. Seriously, any movie by Billy Wilder is worth looking up.

How could this not be a great pick?

To my great disappointment this is not a remarkable movie. There are good reasons this is not on the List and why I never heard of this movie. It is not terrible or anything, it is just not very good, and most importantly for a comedy, it is not that funny.

Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon) is a cameraman for CBS at an American Football game when a football player, Luther “Boom-Boom” Jackson accidentally runs him over. Harry is not really injured, but his brother-in-law, William “Whiplash Willie” Gingrich (Walter Matthau) insists that he needs to pretend to be badly injured so they can get a monster indemnity.

That is really what the movie is about. William is running the scam that Harry is a wreck. The insurance company sends out a detective to prove it is a scam and Harry’s ex-wife shows up to get a slice of the cake. In the middle Harry Hinkle is unhappy about the whole thing and makes friends with Boom-Boom who takes care of him.

Running this scam is supposed to be funny. Crooks biting off a large piece of cake than they can swallow and petty insurance people trying to uncover the scam. It is just is not that funny. Instead the joke very quickly becomes tired and it is as if Billy Wilder did not really know where he wanted to go with this. This is most clearly demonstrated by the fizzle of a climax, that was truly disappointing.

I had high expectations for the “Fortune Cookie”, but already after 10-15 minutes I started looking at the clock and that is never a good sign. It was as if the heart was not in it, the way it is in most of Billy Wilder’s movies. Lemmon and Matthau are okay, but they do not have that much to work with and it becomes very cliché.

On the photography side I could not help feeling that I had just stepped ten years back in time, that this was not 1966 but 1956. Watching this back to back with “Blow-up” just emphasizes that feeling.

These three slots I have granted myself each year are supposed to be reserved for movies that deserve to be on the List, but sometimes you just have to take the chance and see where it lands and this one unfortunately does not deserve to land on the List.

Too bad.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Blow-Up (1966)

With ”Blow-up” I definitely feel I have opened a new year. In fact, it feels as I have skipped an entire decade. The look and feel of “Blow-up” is of modernity and of a contemporary London (for 1966).

If I had not been watching the trilogy by Michelangelo Antonioni I would probably have been lost in this movie, but knowing those three I am well prepared and “Blow-up” is in many ways a natural continuation with some of the same themes.

On the face of it nothing much is happening, or too much if you change viewpoint. Thomas (David Hemmings) is a successful photographer. In his fashionable studio he photographs fashion models that look very expensive. He is arrogant toward the girls, drive a fancy, open car and drink conspicuous amounts of alcohol. Beside his professional work he is also an art photographer who goes to odd places to get the right photo. On such an outing he takes pictures of a couple making out in a park. The girl (Vanessa Redgrave) is upset about it and follows him home to get the pictures. Thomas swaps films so she gets the wrong one and he develops the pictures. In these he finds a murderer and a corpse and when he later goes the park he indeed finds a stiff exactly where he expected it. Now Thomas seems to get confused and do not know exactly what to do. He ends up at a concert and a dope party and when he returns to the park the corpse is gone.

So, is this a crime story? Not at all. I am convinced this is another story about the emptiness of life or the life as lived by the characters. Thomas does whatever he feels like. He is impulsive and follows these impulses in every way possible. If he feels like buying an old propeller, he does that. Girls he takes or leaves with no consequence. Two girls who show up to get their picture taken is a good example of that. Thomas treats them with scorn and simply uses them for his own enjoyment.

Then he comes face to face with something bigger. Life and death, a murderer and what to do about it. It makes him confused and insignificant. All the freedom he has becomes a prison. Suddenly he sees bars on the windows, crowds are claustrophobic and the dope party with its apathy becomes a symbol of the useless life he lives. The girl from the park becomes a symbol of a sort, though I have not entirely figured out what. The end, on the other hand, with the mimes playing invisible tennis and himself alone on a giant lawn only to disappear seems clear enough. All the things in life we pretend are important are of no importance at all and Thomas, with no personal relations, could just as well not exist at all.

It is a bit depressive as usual with Antonioni, but it is staggeringly beautifully done. The photography with its picture quality alone is simply amazing. Then we have the portrait of fashionable London, the young and hip London in 1966 which is iconic. The photographic rape in the opening sequence where Thomas is practically sitting on the model is a very strong scene and set the pace for the move and the music, oh Lord, the music. Most of it is Herbie Hancock and if you do not know who that is then come here and get slapped. As a cherry on top of that soundtrack we get a concert with The Yardbirds, which means Jimmy Page.

A lot has been made of the amount of skin visible in this movie, but it is used very much in line with the story and is actually more discreet than it would seem. At least I was never troubled by it. I think the photographic rape we start out with is a lot more disturbing.

“Blow-up” is the full package. A deep story, beautiful pictures, wonderful music and a time capsule of London 1966. It is a gorgeous movie and I am so glad I saw it. It is one of those movies I well definitely take out again sometime and try to dig a bit deeper or simply enjoy it for the piece of art it is.

Definitely recommended.

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Hold Me While I'm Naked (1966)

Hold Me While I'm Naked
I am done with 1965 and quickly on to the first movie of 1966. And 1966 starts with an experimental movie, hurrah.

These short movies in the sixties have generally been disappointing and “Hold Me While I’m Naked” is unfortunately not the exception.

As usual I have no clue what is actually happening. That is not entirely true, what happens in the scenes are quite recognizable and I do have some vague ideas as to the meaning of some of the scenes, but the bigger picture is lost on me.

There is something about a guy who is making a film. The girl he is filming has to be filmed naked. She does not like that she always has to undress and quits. There are people kissing. The film maker walks in a park enjoying himself? More kissing. A woman in a bathtub is kissing while her wet dress fails to hide her oversize breasts. Then our film guy is in a shower of his own, woken to attention by his mother yelling from outside that he needs to get out of the shower and come to eat his dinner.


Soooo… this is a guy who lives at home and dreams of shooting pictures of women with large breasts? A new Russ Meyer? This is about as far as I got in my analysis.

I suppose there is a certain erotic value in having the girl kiss in the shower and her breast bouncing out, but somehow it comes across more like very bad taste than something exciting. I feel repulsed, not aroused and that of course may be the whole idea.

Something tells me that I should find this little movie interesting, that it should tickle my curiosity or open my eyes to a new point of view. You might not get that impression reading this blog, but I do like film art and would actively seek out exhibitions of that sort. I am just not that interested in this movie. It is not as amateurish as some of the stuff I have been served from the List, but it seems almost as pointless.

I just checked out the movie on Wikipedia and it says it is about sexual frustration and aloneness. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Anyway, 1966 is on and while it is a fairly small year on the list, there are a few very interesting titles coming up so I will rush on to the next movie.


Monday 12 November 2018

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
I do not think I ever watched a Russ Meyer movie in its entirety before. Usually I fall asleep or simply get too bored to finish, so this was a first. Ironic when you think about it, Russ Meyer’s movies being all about speed, sex and violence (as the title aptly indicates), but somehow it never really works for me.

The reason “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” is on the list is as a representative of the Russ Meyer catalogue, but also of the exploitation genre that lived a grassroot life in the sixties and seventies and influenced Tarantino and his ilk in the nineties and onwards. It is not a great movie by any standard, but it does catch the exploitation vibe neatly enough.

Varla (Tura Satana), Rosie (Haji) and Billie (Lori Williams) are three go-go dancers driving sports cars in the desert. It is never clear exactly why, but for the hell of it. Out there they have an encounter with Tommy and Linda (Ray Barlow and Susan Bernard), whom they first race and then proceed to kill Tommy and abduct Linda. I believe Tommy accused Varla of cheating.

Later they learn that a small fortune is hidden on a lonely ranch and they decide to go there. This is where things get a little more complicated. The old man in his wheelchair on the farm is an angry pig and he likes a pair of tits when he sees some. Of his two sons one is decent enough and the other is a lot of muscle and little else. This end up in a sort of everybody against everybody else, with Varla killing off most of them.

The signature feature of a Russ Meyer movie is the emphasis on big breasted and strong women. At first (and probably second) glance this hints at a sexual affinity for dominating women and at that point we are very far into the lurid zone. A movie for male gratification. It is probably not entirely wrong that Russ Meyer got off on top-heavy, dominating women, but I believe there is more to it than that. Considering this is the opening of the sexual revolution of the sixties, this is also a movie of women experiencing freedom. Freedom to do whatever they want, to be as sexual as they want and freedom to take what they want. Yes, it is an exploitation movie and yes, we get sex and violence, but it is also very liberating.

Speaking of sex, I think somebody going in to this movie expecting it to be soft-porn will end up disappointed. Except for some very deep cleavages we actually see very little skin. There are no free-flying breasts or dicks here and sex is only hinted at with some petting and kissing. It is actually surprisingly demure. The violence is more explicit but again with surprisingly little gore. What the movie does is that is talks and hints at sex and violence and is undoubtably about both, but it actually shows very little. Curious.

The acting here is not amazing. The girls are mostly posing, and the dialogue is both over the top and artificial. It makes me wonder where Meyer found these girls and who came up with the script (probably Meyer himself). The filming is better with some interesting angles and some nice shots, especially when the girls are racing.

Story wise it does not make a lot of sense either. There are so many plot holes I do not know where to begin. Lets just start by going around in the desert in a bikini. Those girls have some serious sunburns coming their way.

When I got to the extra material (easily the best part of the DVD) I learned that the actual format of the movie was 4:3 and not the widescreen I had been watching it in. That had made the girls even bigger than they really were and frankly not just a bit comical.

This is a hard movie to recommend. I do actually find exploitation movies entertaining and I love Shaft and that sort of Blaxploitation movies, but the Russ Meyer variant of exploitation just never really does it for me. Still I suppose it is one of those movies you have to have seen. Just to say you have done it.


Monday 5 November 2018

Pierrot Goes Wild (Pierrot le Feu) (1965)

Manden i månen
Yet another Godard movie. Do I really need to go through this again or should I just stop here?

Well, I suppose I should write some sort of review here, but, man, I feel I am on repeat.

Godard and I are not good friends. I have yet to find a Godard movie I even remotely liked and as expected this one is par for the course. The only good thing I have to say about it is that I liked the colors.

So, what is it about? I do not really know. Well, there is supposed to be a base story, something about that Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is running away from his marriage with an old flame, Marianne (Anna Karina). There are some dead bodies and they steal some cars, burn a lot of money for a reason I cannot work out. They end up on a beach where Ferdinand read books and write a diary while Marianne is getting bored. They leave the beach and Ferdinand gets caught and interrogated by some gangsters. Marianne’s brother is actually her lover and have some scheme going of fooling Ferdinand. Ferdinand shoots Marianne and blows his own head off with an insane amount of dynamite, resulting in a pathetic small explosion.

See, this summary, although it is not making a terrible amount of sense, sounds almost interesting. If this was really what I had been watching I might even have liked it, but Godard in his usual style manage to kill it altogether. Drowned out in poetry, surrealism, idle dialogue and lack of causality in general the “story” is an empty hull for Godard’s artsy masturbation.

I am sure there are plenty of people who can read a lot on meaning into everything happening and gets off on that and usually it is a game I even enjoy playing or if not, then laugh at the craziness. Hey, I even found some amusement in “Last Year at Marienbad”, but here, when Godard is let loose, it is so incredibly uninteresting. I do not care what sort of relationship Ferdinand and Marianne is having. I do not care what they are really running away from and why there are so many dead people and I absolutely have no interest in Ferdinand’s diary.

I mentioned I liked the colors. Come to think of it, there is a second thing I liked. Ferdinand blowing his head off after having killed Marianne. Then at least the movie must have come to an end and I am released from this ennui.

Stop complaining that I am giving away the ending, that my review is one big spoiler. If you like or will like this movie it is because you see something else in this movie than the apparent story and so my synopsis will ruin nothing for you as I was completely unable to get below the surface layer.

I am not done with Godard. The List editors’ infatuation with this guy makes me seriously question their judgement and I just do not know why they insist on wasting my time with this junk. I get why we need one or two as exponents of the French New Wave and I could live with that, but it feels like we have to watch every single one of his movies. Why?

Not recommended.

BTW, the Book calls it a master piece…